Vegetarian café receives barrage of online abuse for refusing to accept new five pound note

'I'm a nervous wreck. I can't handle this level of vitriol. People are finding every kind of criticisms like blowing up our pictures to see what kind of shoes we have,' says owner Sharon Meijland

May Bulman
Saturday 03 December 2016 20:09
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Vegetarian café owner Sharon Meijland has been the victim of online abuse after introducing a policy of refusing the new five pound note on the basis that they contain animal fats
Vegetarian café owner Sharon Meijland has been the victim of online abuse after introducing a policy of refusing the new five pound note on the basis that they contain animal fats

The owner of a vegetarian café who introduced a policy of refusing to take the new five pound note because they contain traces of animal fat has told The Independent she is a “nervous wreck” after receiving a barrage of online abuse over the ban.

Sharon Meijland, who owns Rainbow Vegetarian Café in Cambridge, put signs up in her restaurant on Wednesday informing customers that they would no longer be able to pay with the new notes after the Bank of England revealed they were made with tallow – a substance containing animal by-products.

Three days later, Ms Meijland told The Independent she was struggling to cope after being subjected to an influx of "nasty" comments in response to the policy, saying it was difficult to handle the “level of vitriol” being aimed at her.

On Saturday afternoon a number of comments could be seen on the restaurant’s Facebook page, with people accusing the café of using the ban as a “publicity stunt” and calling the owners “pathetic”.

Ms Meijland, who has owned the café for 30 years, said told The Independent: “I'm a nervous wreck. I can't handle this level of vitriol. I just want it to blow over.

“People are finding every kind of criticisms like blowing up our pictures to see what kind of shoes we have. There are so many nasty comments about ‘cheap publicity stunt’. It seems unfair.

“When I look at the hundreds of thousands of meatless meals I have served in the last three decades, each one a meal that has not got one piece of animal on it, I would have thought that would be appreciated. But instead, it’s ‘Burn the Witch’ time.”

Ms Meijland put up a sign in the restaurant informing customers they would refuse new five pound notes because of the revelation they contain animal by-products (Sharon Meijland)

On the Rainbow Venegtarian Café Facebook page, one commenter wrote: “Plastic bags, car and bike tyres, even the glue that is used in wooden musical instruments and furniture can and usually have animal by products in them.

“You are the attention seekers who tarnish all vegans with the same pecker brush.”

Another wrote: “You actually are pathetic, do you use gas and petrol? because if so I suggest you stop since they use animal by products.”

The restaurant owner said she had had to give her phone to her husband so that she couldn’t “hear the pings” and that there had been an abusive call made to the restaurant itself, but she confirmed that no one had been abusive in person.

Despite the online abuse, Ms Meijland said the restaurant was sticking to the policy, and said that if anyone were to “take up the legal tender issue”, their five pound note would be donated to a local animal shelter.

“If we get someone who is truly determined to take up the legal tender issue, we have an envelope ready for then to drop the five pound note in, and it will go direct to Wood Green Animal Shelter,” she said.

"What these people don't seem to realise is they are not abusing some massive company – it's a restaurant run by a 66- and 68-year-old couple."

The restaurant has won at the Free From Eating Out Awards for five consecutive years among a number of other successes.

The revelation sparked outrage among vegetarians and vegans in the UK, and a petition demanding that the note be scrapped because it is “unacceptable to millions of vegans and vegetarians, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains in the UK” has so far garnered more than 125,000 signatures.

In response, the Bank of England said it was trying to find a way to remove traces of animal fat from new five pound notes, and said they were unaware of the use of tallow when a contract was signed with suppliers Innovia.

The Australian inventor of the polymer bank note has since said British vegetarians and vegans were being “stupid” for protesting about the issue, saying the notes contain “trivial” amounts of tallow, which is also found in candles and soap.

The new polymer notes came into circulation in September and are said to be safer and stronger than other notes, with the ability to be wiped clean and to survive a standard laundry cycle with “minimal damage”.

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